- Associated Press - Saturday, November 7, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Oakland gave the Pittsburgh Steelers fits during the Raiders’ decade-plus run as a comically hot mess.

Imagine the issues that might crop up now that Oakland might be … good?

A victory on the road Sunday would give the Raiders (4-3) their best record at the midway point since 2001 and serve notice that first-year head coach Jack Del Rio’s rebuilding program is well ahead of schedule.

“This is a different team,” Oakland running back Latavius Murray said. “I won’t say completely different, but there are new faces and the atmosphere has changed around here. It’s great what we have going on now, but we want to continue doing what we’re doing.”

Namely, playing with a swagger not seen since Jon Gruden was scowling on the sideline instead of analyzing in the TV booth.

Quarterback Derek Carr is taking care of the ball. Murray is ripping through holes and ageless Charles Woodson is picking off passes as if it was still the late-90s.

“We can’t think of it as just a bigger moment or smaller moment,” Carr said. “For us it’s just we have the Pittsburgh Steelers at their place and that’s never easy for anybody.”

Well, maybe anybody but the Raiders. Oakland is 4-1 against Pittsburgh since 2006 and 43-103 against the rest of the league. Del Rio and Carr expect a playoff-type atmosphere, and in some ways it could be an elimination game for the Steelers (4-4).

Injuries have decimated Pittsburgh since training camp with running back Le’Veon Bell the latest to head to injured reserve after tearing the MCL in his right knee last week against Cincinnati.

DeAngelo Williams filled in capably in September while Bell sat out two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and his 4.9 yards per carry rank in the top 10 in the league.

Coach Mike Tomlin has preached faith in Williams, and it will be tested as the 32-year-old returns to a feature role at an age when most backs are slowing down. That’s not an option if Pittsburgh wants to reach the postseason.

“Listen, he’s not Le’Veon and he’s not going to try to be Le’Veon,” Roethlisberger said. “But he’s DeAngelo and he’s done it in this league for a while now and he’s done it at a high level.”

Other things to look for as the Raiders try for consecutive wins in the Eastern time zone for the first time since 2002.

BULLISH BEN: Roethlisberger wasn’t exactly sharp in his first game back after missing a month with a sprained knee. He threw three picks against the Bengals, including one that set up Cincinnati’s game-winning drive. Still, he’s hardly backing off the idea set forth by offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the preseason that Pittsburgh can average 30 points a game.

“I don’t see why anything has changed, and it shouldn’t,” Roethlisberger said.

RUN STUFFERS: The Raiders have gone 11 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher and have been one of the toughest teams in the league to run against. Oakland is second in the NFL, allowing 82.9 yards per game and ranks third at 3.7 yards per carry. The Raiders completely shut down Chris Ivory last week. Ivory, who came into the game averaging more than 100 yards per game, was held to 17 on 15 carries and was hit for a loss on six runs.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on as a defense, stop the run and don’t give up big plays,” rookie defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. said. “If we stop the run, we can make them one-dimensional.”

CAREFUL, CAREFUL: While the injuries are an easy scapegoat, Tomlin has a more blunt assessment of why his team has lost consecutive games for the first time since 2013. The Steelers have turned it over six times the past two weeks and were flagged 10 times against the Bengals. That’s not exactly winning football no matter who is or who isn’t in uniform.

“We can’t be highly penalized,” Tomlin said. “We have to win the turnover battle and we have to take better care of the football than we have in the last two weeks.”

FAST STARTERS: The Raiders have jumped on teams early the past two weeks. They scored on their first seven drives against San Diego two weeks ago and followed that with scores on six of the first seven drives last week against the Jets. Only a missed field goal by Sebastian Janikowski marred the first three quarters against New York. But despite the lofty numbers, the Raiders believe they can do more.

“We’re doing some good things,” Murray said. “We need to continue to build on that. There’s still things we leave out on the field and things we can get better at. We keep working to be great.”


AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in Oakland contributed to this report.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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